SB Ml 53D
LINCOLN S LAST HOURS
CHARLES A. LEALE.M.D
Xincoln s Xast IHours
Charles H. %eale, flD. 2).
The Estate of Charles A. Leale
DELIVERED BEFORE THE
COMMANDERY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Military Order of the Loyal Legion
of the United States
at the regular meeting, February, 1909, City of New York
IN OBSERVANCE OF THE
ONE HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BIRTH OF
President Abraham Lincoln
7 \ 4
^Lincoln s Xast Ibours
Gbarles H* Xeale, /ID. B.
COPYRIGHT, 1909, BY CHARLES A. LEALE, M. D.
Commander and Companions of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion
of the United States:
At the historic pageant in Washington, when the remains of Presi
dent Lincoln were being taken from the White House to the Capitol,
a carriage immediately preceding the catafalque was assigned to me.
Outside were the crowds, the martial music, but inside the carriage
I was plunged in deep self-communion, until aroused by a gentle tap-
at the window of my carriage door. An officer of high rank put his
head inside and exclaimed : "Dr. Leale, I would rather have done what
you did to prolong the life of the President than to have accomplished
my duties during the entire war." I shrank back at what he said,
and for the first time realized the importance of it all. As soon as
I returned to my private office in the hospital, I drew down the win
dow-shade, locked the door, threw myself prostrate on the bare wood
floor and asked for advice. The answer came as distinctly as if
spoken by a human being present : "Forget it all." I visited our Surgeon
General, Joseph K. Barnes, and asked his advice; he also said: "Cast
it from your memory."
On April 17, 1865, a New York newspaper reporter called at my
army tent. I invited him in, and expressed my desire to forget all the
recent sad events, and to occupy my mind with the exacting present
and plans for the future.
Recently, several of our Companions expressed the conviction, that
history now demands, and that it is my duty to give the detailed facts
of President Lincoln s death as I know them, and in compliance with
their request, I this evening for the first time will read a paper on the
^Lincoln s Xast Ibours
One of the most cruel wars in the history of the world had nearly
The people- of the United States were rejoicing at the prospect of
peace, and tetiltntag happiness. President Lincoln, after the surrender
t oC ,Gpnieral Robert 1 E. Lee, visited Richmond, Virginia, exposing him
self ittf gi ^at Singer./ and on his return delivered an address from the
balcony of the White House.
I was then a Commissioned Officer in the Medical Department
of the United States Army, having been appointed from my native
State, New York, and was on duty as Surgeon in charge of the Wounded
Commissioned Officers Ward at the United States Army General Hos
pital, Armory Square, Washington, District of Columbia, where my
professional duties were of the greatest importance and required con
stant and arduous attention. For a brief relief and a few moments
in the fresh air I started one evening for a short walk on Pennsylvania
Avenue. There were crowds walking toward the President s residence.
These I followed and arrived just at the commencement of President
Lincoln s last public address to his people. From where I stood I
could distinctly hear every word he uttered and I was profoundly im
pressed with his divine appearance as he stood in the rays of light,
which penetrated the windows of the White House.
The influence thus produced gave me an intense desire again to
behold his face and study the characteristics of the "Savior of his
Country." Therefore on the evening of April 14, 1865, after the com
pletion of my daily hospital duties, I told my Ward Master that I
would be absent for a short time. As a very large number from the
Armv stationed near Washington frequently visited the city, a general
order was in force that none should be there without a special pass
and all wearing uniform and out at night were subject to frequent
challenge. To avoid this inconvenience officers stationed in Washing
ton generally removed all signs of their calling when off duty. I
changed to civilian s dress and hurried to Ford s Theatre, where I
had been told President Lincoln, General Grant, and Members of the
Cabinet were to be present to see the play, "Our American Cousin." I
arrived late at the theatre, 8.15 p. m., and requested a seat in the
orchestra, whence I could view the occupants of the President s box,
which on looking into the theatre, I saw had been beautifully decorated
with American flags in honor of the occasion. As the building was
crowded the last place vacant was in the dress circle. I was greatly
disappointed, but accepted this seat, which was near the front on the
same side and about 40 feet from the President s box, and soon be
came interested in the pleasing play.
Suddenly there was a cheering welcome, the acting ceased tem
porarily out of respect to the entering Presidential party. Many in
the audience rose to their feet in enthusiasm and vociferously cheered,
while looking around. Turning, I saw in the aisle a few feet behind
me, President Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln, Major Rathbone and Miss Har
ris. Mrs. Lincoln smiled very happily in acknowledgment of the loyal
greeting, gracefully curtsied several times and seemed to be overflowing
with good cheer and thankfulness. I had the best opportunity to dis
tinctly see the full face of the President, as the light shone directly
upon him. After he had walked a few feet he stopped for a mo
ment, looked upon the people he loved and acknowledged their
salutations with a solemn bow. His face was perfectly stoical, his
deep set eyes gave him a pathetically sad appearance. The audience
seemed to be enthusiastically cheerful, but he alone looked peculiarly
sorrowful, as he slowly walked with bowed head and drooping shoul
ders toward the box. I was looking at him as he took his last walk.
The memory of that scene has never been effaced. The party was pre
ceded by a special usher, who opened the door of the box, stood to
one side, and after all had entered closed the door and took a seat
outside, where he could guard the entrance to the box. The play
was resumed and mv attention was concentrated on the stage until I
heard a disturbance at the door of the President s box. With many
others I looked in that direction, and saw a man endeavoring to per
suade the reluctant usher to admit him. At last he succeeded in gain
ing an entrance, after which the door was closed and the usher re
sumed his place.
For a few moments all was quiet, and the play again held my at
tention until, suddenly, the report of a pistol was heard, and a short
time after I saw a man in mid-air leaping from the President s box
to the stage, brandishing in his hand a drawn dagger. His spur caught
in the American flag festooned in front of the box, causing him to
stumble when he struck the stage, and he fell on his hands and knees.
He quickly regained the erect posture and hopped across the stage,
flourishing his dagger, clearing the stage before him and dragging the
foot of the leg, which was subsequently found to be broken, he dis-
appeared behind the scene on the opposite side of the stage. Then
followed cries that the President had been murdered, interspersed with
cries of "Kill the murderer!" "Shoot him!" etc., from different parts
of the building. The lights had been turned down, a general gloom
was over all, and the panic-stricken audience were rushing toward the
doors for exit and safety.
I instantly arose and in response to cries for help and for a sur
geon, I crossed the aisle and vaulted over the seats in a direct line to
the President s box, forcing my way through the excited crowd. The
door of the box had been securely fastened on the inside to prevent
anyone following the assassin before he had accomplished his cruel
object and made his escape. The obstruction was with difficulty re
moved and I was the first to be admitted to the box.
The usher having been told that I was an army surgeon, had lifted
up his arm and had permitted me alone to enter.
I passed in, not in the slightest degree knowing what I had to en
counter. At this moment, while in self-communion, the military com
mand: "Halt!" came to me, and in obedience to it I stood still in the
box, having a full view of the four other occupants. Then came the
advice : "Be calm !" and with the calmest deliberation and iorce of
will I brought all my senses to their greatest activity and walked for
ward to my duty.
Major Rathbone had bravely fought the assassin; his arm had
been severely wounded and was bleeding. He came to me holding his
wounded arm in the hand of the other, beseeching me to attend to his
wound. I placed my hand under his chin, looking into his eyes an
almost instantaneous glance revealed the fact that he was in no im
mediate danger, and in response to appeals from Mrs. Lincoln and
Miss Harris, who were standing by the high-backed armchair in which
President Lincoln sat, I went immediately to their assistance, saying
I was, a United States army surgeon. I grasped Mrs, Lincoln s out
stretched hand in mine, while she cried piteously to me, "Oh, Doctor!
Is he dead? Can he recover? Will you take charge of him? Do
what you can for him. Oh, my dear husband !" etc., etc. I sooth
ingly answered that we would do all that possibly could be done.
While approaching the President, I asked a gentleman, who was at the
door of the box, to procure some brandy and another to get some
As I looked at the President, he appeared to be dead. His eyes
were closed and his head had fallen forward. He was being held
upright in his chair by Mrs. Lincoln, who was weeping bitterly. From
his crouched down sitting posture it was evident that Mrs. Lincoln
had instantly sprung to his aid after he had been wounded and had
kept him from tumbling to the floor. By Mrs. Lincoln s courage,
strength and energy the President was maintained in this upright po
sition during all the time that elapsed while Major Rathbone had
bravely fought the assassin and removed the obstruction from the
door of the box.
I placed my finger on the President s right radial pulse but could
perceive no movement of the artery. For the purpose of reviving him,
if possible, we removed him from his chair to a recumbent position
on the floor of the box, and as I held his head and shoulders while
doing this, my hand came in contact with a clot of blood near his
left shoulder. Remembering the flashing dagger in the hand of the
assassin, and the severely bleeding wound of Major Rathbone, I sup
posed the President had been stabbed, and while kneeling on the floor
over his head, with my eyes continuously watching the President s
face, I asked a gentleman to cut the coat and shirt open from the neck
to the elbow to enable me, if possible, to check the hemorrhage that
I thought might take place from the subclavian artery or some other
blood vessel. This was done with a dirk knife, but no wound was
found there. I lifted his eyelids and saw evidence of a brain injury.
I quickly passed the separated fingers of both hands through his
blood matted hair to examine his head, and I discovered his mortal
wound. The President had been shot in the back part of the head,
behind the left ear. I easily removed the obstructing clot of blood
from the wound, and this relieved the pressure on the brain.
The assassin of President Lincoln had evidently carefully planned
to shoot to produce instant death, as the wound he made was situated
within two inches of the physiological point of selection, when instant
death is desired. A Derringer pistol had been used, which had sent
a large round ball on its awful mission through one of the thickest,
hardest parts of the skull and into the brain. The history of surgery
fails to record a recovery from such a fearful wound and I have never
seen or heard of any other person with such a wound, and injury to
the sinus of the brain and to the brain itself, who lived even for an
As the President did not then revive, I thought of the other mode
of death, apnoea, and assumed my preferred position to revive by ar
tificial respiration. I knelt on the floor over the President, with a
knee on each side of his pelvis and facing him. I leaned forward,
opened his mouth and introduced two extended fingers of my right
hand as far back as possible, and by pressing the base of his paralyzed
tongue downward and outward, opened his larynx and made a free
passage for air to enter the lungs. I placed an assistant at each of
his arms to manipulate them in order to expand his thorax, then slowly
to press the arms down by the side of the body, while I pressed the
diaphragm upward: methods which caused air to be drawn in and
forced out of his lungs.
During the intermissions I also with the strong thumb and fingers
of my right hand by intermittent sliding pressure under and beneath
the ribs, stimulated the apex of the heart, and resorted to several
other physiological methods. We repeated these motions a number of
times before signs of recovery fromi the profound shock were attained;
then a feeble action of the heart and irregular breathing followed.
The effects of the shock were still manifest by such great pros
tration, that I was fearful of any extra agitation of the President s
body, and became convinced that something more must be done to
retain life. I leaned forcibly forward directly over his body, thorax to
thorax, face to face, and several times drew in a long breath, then forcibly
breathed directly into his mouth and nostrils, which expanded his
lungs and improved his respirations. After waiting a moment I placed
my ear over his thorax and found the action of the heart improving.
I arose to the erect kneeling posture, then watched for a short time,
and saw that the President could continue independent breathing and
that instant death would not occur.
I then pronounced my diagnosis and prognosis: "His wound is
mortal ; it is impossible for him to recover." This message was
telegraphed all over the country.
When the brandy and water arrived, I very slowly poured a small
quantity into the President s mouth, this was swallowed and retained.
Many looked on during these earnest efforts to revive the Presi
dent, but not once did any one suggest a word or in any way interfere
with my actions. Mrs. Lincoln had thrown the burden on me and
sat nearby looking on.
In the dimly lighted box of the theatre, so beautifully decorated
with American flags, a scene of historic importance was being enacted.
On the carpeted floor lay prostrate the President of the United States.
His long, outstretched, athletic body of six feet four inches appeared
unusually heroic. His bleeding head rested on my white linen hand
kerchief. His clothing was arranged as nicely as possible. He was
irregularly breathing, his heart was feebly beating, his face was pale
and in solemn repose, his eyelids were closed, his countenance made
him appear to be in prayerful communion with the Universal God he
always loved. I looked down upon him and waited for the next in
spiration, which soon came : Remove to safety." From the time Mrs.
Lincoln had placed the President in my charge, I had not permitted
my attention to be diverted. Again I was asked the nature of his
wound and replied in these exact words: "His wound is mortal; it
is impossible for him to recover."
While I was kneeling over the President on the floor Dr. Charles
S. Taft and Dr. Albert F. A. King had come and offered to render any
assistance. I expressed the desire to have the President taken, as soon
as he had gained sufficient strength, to the nearest house on the op
posite side of the street. I was asked by several if he could not be
taken to the White House, but I responded that if that were attempted
the President would die long before we reached there. While we were
waiting for Mr. Lincoln to gain strength Laura Keene, who had been
taking part in the play, appealed to me to allow her to hold the Presi
dent s head. I granted this request and she sat on the floor of the box
and held his head on her lap.
We decided that the President could now be moved from the pos
sibility of danger in the theatre to a house where we might place him
on a bed in safety. To assist in this duty I assigned Dr. Taft to carry
his right shoulder, Dr. King to carry his left shoulder and detailed a
sufficient number of others, whose names I have never discovered, to
assist in carrying the body, while I carried his head, going first. We
reached the door of the box and saw the long passage leading to the
exit crowded with people. I called out twice: "Guards, clear the pass
age! Guards, clear the passage!" A free space was quickly cleared
by an officer and protected by a line of soldiers in the position of
present arms with swords, pistols and bayonets. When we reached
the stairs, I turned so that those holding the President s feet would
descend first. At the door of the theatre, I was again asked if the
President could be taken to the White House. I answered: "No, the
President would die on the way."
The crowd in the street completely obstructed the doorway and a
captain, whose services proved invaluable all through the night, came
to me, saying: "Surgeon, give me your commands and I will see that
they are obeyed." I asked him to clear a passage to the nearest house
opposite. He had on side arms and drew his sword. With the sword
and word of command he cleared the way. We slowly crossed the
street. It was necessary to stop several times to give me the oppor
tunity to remove the clot of blood from the opening to the wound. A
barrier of men had been formed to keep back the crowds on each side
of an open space leading to the house. Those who went ahead reported
that the house directly opposite the theatre was closed. I saw a man
standing at the door of Mr. Petersen s house, diagonally opposite, hold
ing a lighted candle in his hand and beckoning us to enter. This we
did, not having been interrupted in the slightest by the throngs in the
street, but a number of the excited populace followed us into the house.
The great difficulty of retaining life during this brief time occu
pied in moving the President from the theatre to Mr. Petersen s
house, conclusively proved that the President would have died in the
street if I had granted the request to take him such a long distance as
to the White House. I asked for the best room and we soon had the
President placed in bed. He was lifted to the longitudinal center of
the bed and placed on his back. While holding his face upward and
keeping his head from rolling to either side, I looked at his elevated
knees caused by his great height. This uncomfortable position grieved
me and I ordered the foot of the bed to be removed. Dr. Taft and
Dr. King reported that it was a fixture. Then I requested that it be
broken off ; as I found this could not satisfactorily be done, I had the
President placed diagonally on the bed and called for extra pillows,
and with them formed a gentle inclined plane on which to rest his head
and shoulders. His position was then one of repose.
The room soon filled with anxious people. I called the officer and
asked him to open a window and order all except the medical gentle
men and friends to leave the room. After we had given the President
a short rest I decided to make a thorough physical examination, as I
wished to see if he had been wounded in any other part of the body.
I requested all except the surgeons to leave the room. The Captain
reported that my order had been carried out with the exception of
Mrs. Lincoln, to whom he said he did not like to speak. I addressed
Mrs. Lincoln, explaining my desire, and she immediately left the room.
I examined the President s entire body from his head to his feet and
found no other injury. His lower extremities were very cold and I
sent the Hospital Steward, who had been of great assistance to us in
removing the President from the theatre, to procure bottles of hot
water and hot blankets, which were applied. I also sent for a large
sinapism and in a short time one very nicely made was brought. This
I applied over the solar-plexus and to the anterior surface of his body.
We arranged the bed clothes nicely and I assigned Dr. Taft and Dr.
King to keep his head upon the pillows in the most comfortable posi
tion, relieving each other in this duty, after which I sent an officer to
notify Mrs. Lincoln that she might return to her husband; she came in
and sat on a chair placed for her at the head of the bed.
As the symptoms indicated renewed brain compression, I again
cleared the opening of clotted blood and pushed forward the button of
bone, which acted as a valve, permitted an oozing of blood and re
lieved pressure on the brain. I again saw good results from this action.
After doing all that was professionally necessary, I stood aside for
a general view and to think what to do next. While thus watching sev
eral army officers anxiously asked if they could in any way assist. I
told them my greatest desire then was to send messengers to the White
House for the President s son, Captain Robert T. Lincoln, also for the
Surgeon General, Joseph K. Barnes, Surgeon D. Willard Bliss, in
charge of Armory Square General Hospital, the President s family
physician, Dr. Robert K. Stone, and to each member of the President s
Cabinet. All these desires of mins were fulfilled.
Having been taught in early youth to pay great respect to all re
ligious denominations in regard to their rules concerning the sick or
dying, it became my duty as surgeon in charge of the dying President
to summon a clergyman to his bedside. Therefore after inquiring and
being informed that the Rev. Dr. Gurley was Mrs. Lincoln s pastor, I
immediately sent for him.
Then I sent the Hospital Steward for a Nelaton probe. No drug
or medicine in any form was administered to the President, but the
artificial heat and mustard plaster that I had applied warmed his cold
body and stimulated his nerves. Only a few were at any time admitted
to the room by the officer, whom I had stationed at the door, and at
all times I had maintained perfect discipline and order.
While we were watching and letting Nature do her part, Dr. Taft
came to me with brandy and water and asked permission to give some
to the President. I objected, stating as my reason that it would produce
strangulation. Dr. Taft left the room, and again came to me stating
that it was the opinion of others also that it might do good. I replied :
"I will grant the request, if you will please at first try by pouring only
a very small quantity into the President s mouth." This Dr. Taft very
carefully did, the liquid ran into the President s larynx producing laryn-
geal obstruction and unpleasant symptoms, which took me about half
a minute to overcome, but no lasting harm was done. My physiological
and practical experiences had led to correct conclusions.
On the arrival of Dr. Robert K. Stone, who had been the Presi
dent s family physician during his residence in Washington, I was pre
sented to him as the one who had been in charge since the President
was shot. I described the wound and told him all that had been done.
He said he approved of my treatment.
Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes long delay in arriving was due
to his going first to the White House, where he expected to find the
assassinated President, then to the residence of Secretary Seward and
his son, both of whom he found requiring immediate attention, as they
had been severely wounded by the attempts of another assassin to kill
On the arrival of the Surgeon General and Assistant Surgeon Gen
eral, Charles H. Crane, I reported what we had done and officially de
tailed to the Surgeon General my diagnosis, stating that whenever the
clot was allowed to form over the opening to the wound the President s
breathing became greatly embarrassed. The Surgeon General approved
the treatment and my original plan of treatment was continued in
every respect until the President s death.
The Hospital Steward arrived with the Nelaton probe and an ex
amination was made by the Surgeon General and myself, who introduced
the probe to a distance of about two and a half inches, where it came
in contact with a foreign substance, which lay across the track of the
ball ; this was easily passed and the probe was introduced several inches
further where it again touched a hard substance at first supposed to
be the ball, but as the white porcelain bulb of the probe on its with
drawal did not indicate the mark of lead it was generally thought to
be another piece of loose bone. The probe was introduced the second
time and the ball was supposed to be distinctly felt. After this second
exploration nothing further was done with the wound except to keep
the opening free from coagula, which, if allowed to form and remain
for a short time, produced signs of increased compression, the breathing
becoming profoundly stertorous and intermittent, the pulse more feeble
and irregular. After I had resigned my charge all that was profes
sionally done for the President was to repeat occasionally my original
expedient of relieving the brain pressure by freeing the opening to the
wound and to count the pulse and respirations. The President s posi
tion on the bed remained exactly as I had first placed him with the
assistance of Dr. Taft and Dr. King.
Captain Robert T. Lincoln came and remained with his father and
mother, bravely sustaining himself during the course of the night.
On that awful memorable night the great War Secretary, the Hon
orable Edwin M. Stanton, one of the most imposing figures of the
nineteenth century, promptly arrived and recognized at that critical
period of our country s history the necessity of a head to our Govern
ment and as the President was passing away established a branch of
his War Department in an adjoining room. There he sat, surrounded
by his counsellors and messengers, pen in hand, writing to General Dix
and others. He was soon in communication with many in authority
and with the Government and army officials. By Secretary Stanton s
wonderful ability and power in action, he undoubtedly controlled mil
lions of excited people. He was then the Master, and in reality Acting
President of the United States.
During the night Mrs. Lincoln came frequently from the adjoining
room accompanied by a lady friend. At one time Mrs. Lincoln ex
claimed, sobbing bitterly: "Oh! that my little Taddy might see his
father before he died!" This was decided not advisable. As Mrs. Lin
coln sat on a chair by the side of the bed with her face to her hus
band s his breathing became very stertorous and the loud, unnatural
noise frightened her in her exhausted, agonized condition. She sprang
up suddenly with a piercing cry and fell fainting to the floor. Sec
retary Stanton hearing her cry came in from the adjoining room and
with raised arms called out loudly : "Take that woman out and do not
let her in again." Mrs. Lincoln was helped up kindly and assisted in
a fainting condition from the room. Secretary Stanton s order was
obeyed and Mrs. Lincoln did not see her husband again before he died.
As Captain Lincoln was consoling his mother in another room,
and as I had promised Mrs. Lincoln to do all I possibly could for her
husband, I took the place of kindred and continuously held the Presi
dent s right hand firmly, with one exception of less than a minute,
when my sympathies compelled me to seek the disconsolate wife. I
found her reclining in a nearby room, being comforted by her son.
Without stopping in my walk, I passed the room where Secretary Stan-
ton sat at his official table and returning took the hand of the dying
President in mine. The hand that had signed the Emancipation Proc
lamation liberating 4,000,000 slaves.
As morning dawned it became quite evident that the President was
sinking, and at several times his pulse could not be counted. Two or
three feeble pulsations being noticed, followed by an intermission when
not the slightest movements of the artery could be felt. The inspira
tions became very prolonged and labored, accompanied by a guttural
sound. The respirations ceased for some time and several anxiously
looked at their watches until the profound silence was disturbed by a
prolonged inspiration, which was followed by a sonorous expiration.
During these moments the Surgeon General occupied a chair by the
head of the President s bed and occasionally held his finger over the
carotid artery to note its pulsations. Dr. Stone sat on the edge of the
foot of the bed, and I stood holding the President s right hand with my
extended forefinger on his pulse, being the only one between the bed
and the wall, the bed having been drawn out diagonally for that pur
pose. While we were anxiously watching in profound solemn silence,
the Rev. Dr. Gurley said: "Let us pray," and offered a most impres
sive prayer. After which we witnessed the last struggle between life
At this time my knowledge of physiology, pathology and psychology
told me that the President was totally blind as a result of blood press
ure on the brain, as indicated by the paralysis, dilated pupils, pro
truding and bloodshot eyes, but all the time I acted on the belief that
if his sense of hearing or feeling remained, he could possibly hear me
when I sent for his son, the voice of his wife when she spoke to him
and that the last sound he heard, may have been his pastor s prayer,
as he finally committed his soul to God.
Knowledge that frequently just before departure recognition and
reason return to those who have been unconscious caused me for sev
eral hours to hold his right hand firmly within my grasp to let him in
his blindness know, if possible, that he was in touch with humanity
and had a friend.
The protracted struggle ceased at twenty minutes past seven o clock
on the morning of April 15, 1865, and I announced that the President
Immediately after death the <few remaining in the room knelt
around the bed while the Rev. Dr. Gurley delivered one of the most
impressive prayers ever uttered, that our Heavenly Father look down
in pity upon the bereaved family and preserve our afflicted and sorrow-
Then I gently smoothed the President s contracted facial muscles,
took two coins from my pocket, placed them over his eyelids and drew
a white sheet over the martyr s face. I had been the means, in God s
hand, of prolonging the life of President Abraham Lincoln for nine
Every necessary act of love, devotion, skill and loyalty had been
rendered during his helpless hours to the President of the United
States, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, to the be
loved of millions of people throughout the world.
Many reported, anxious in any way to be of service. I accepted
their offers to the extent of abundantly filling every want. Of all the
people I have met in different parts of the world, I have found that as
a class, good Americans are not to be excelled when occasions demand,
in strength, endurance, calmness, good judgment, ardent loyal devotion
and self-sacrificing love.
By prolonging the life of President Lincoln, his son Robert, whom
I sent for, was enabled to see his father alive. Physicians and surgeons,
lawyer and clergyman, whom I sent for, visited the President and were
given time to deliberate. Members of the Cabinet, whom I sent for
with soldiers and sailors and friends, had the opportunity to surround
him. Millions of dangerous, excited and disappointed people were
morally dissuaded from acts of discord. The nation was held in sup
pressed, sympathetic suspense and control, when the people heard that
the President was living, though severely wounded and dying.
Before the people had time to realize the situation there was an
other President of the United States and the grandeur of the continuity
of the Republic was confirmed.
After all was over, and as I stood by the side of the covered mor
tal remains I thought: "You have fulfilled your promise to the wife,
your duty now is to the many living, suffering, wounded officers com
mitted to your care in your ward at Armory Square General Hospital,
and I left the house in deep meditation. In my lonely walk I was
aroused from my reveries by the cold drizzling rain dropping on my
bare head, my hat I had left in my seat at the theatre. My clothing
was stained with blood, I had not once been seated since I first sprang
to the President s aid; I was cold, weary and sad. The dawn of peace
was again clouded, the most cruel war in history had not completely
ended. Our long sorrowing country vividly came before me as I
thought how essential it was to have an organization composed of re
turning soldiers to guard and protect the officers of state and uphold
the Constitution. This great need was simultaneously recognized by
others, for on that day, April 15, 1865, there assembled at Philadelphia
a few army officers for that purpose and originated the Military Order
of the Loyal Legion of the United States.
Among the archives of our organization, the Military Order of the
Loyal Legion of the United States, we have recorded:
President of the United States, March 4, 1861, to April 15, 1865.
Born February 12, 1809, Hardin (La Rue County}, Kentucky.
Assassinated April 14, 1865; died April 15, 1865, at Washington, D.C.
Enrolled by Special Resolution, to date from April 15, 1865.
I herewith give in the order in which they arrived, the names of the
physicians and surgeons, and the clergyman whom I recognized as taking
a professional part in the physical, mental or spiritual welfare of the
President from the time he was shot until his death. The first person to
enter the box after the President was shot, and who took charge of
him at the request of Mrs. Lincoln, was myself, Charles A. Leale,
M. D., Assistant Surgeon, United States Volunteers and the surgeon
in charge of the ward containing the wounded commissioned officers
at the United States Army General Hospital, Armory Square, Wash
ington, D. C. The next who reported and simultaneously offered their
services to me, which were accepted, were Charles S. Taft, M. D.,
Acting Assistant Surgeon, United States Army, and Albert F. A. King,
M. D., Acting Assistant Surgeon, United States Army. Then appar
ently a very long time after we had cared for the President in Mr.
Petersen s house, and in response to the numerous messengers whom
I had sent, there arrived Robert K. Stone, M. D., Mrs. Lincoln s family
physician; Joseph K. Barnes, M. D., Surgeon General, United States
Army; Charles H. Crane, M. D., Assistant Surgeon General, United
States Army, and the Rev. Dr. Gurley, Mrs. Lincoln s pastor. During
the night several other physicians unknown to me called, and through
courtesy I permitted some of them to feel the President s pulse, but
none of them touched the wound.
Later in the forenoon as I was in the midst of important surgical
duties at our hospital, I was notified by my lady nurse that a messenger
had called inviting me to be present at the necropsy. Later a doctor
called for the same purpose. I respectfully asked to be excused, as
I did not dare to leave the large number of severely wounded expecting
my usual personal care. I was fearful that the shock of hearing of
the sudden death of the President might cause trouble in their de
pressed painful conditions.
One of my patients was profoundly depressed. He said to me:
"Doctor, all we have fought for is gone. Our country is destroyed,
and I want to die." This officer the day before was safely recovering
from an amputation. I called my lady nurse, "Please closely watch
Lieutenant - ; cheer him as much as possible, and give him two
ounces of wine every two hours," etc., etc. This brave soldier received
the greatest kindness and skillful care, but he would not rally from the
shock and died in a short time.
Among my relics I have a photograph taken a few days later in
full staff uniform as I appeared at the obsequies. The crape has never
been removed from my sword. I have my cuffs stained with the mar
tyr s blood, also my card of invitation to the funeral services, held on
Wednesday, April 19, which I attended, having been assigned a place
at the head of the coffin at the White House, and a carriage immediately
preceding the catafalque in the grand funeral procession from the
Wlhite House to the Capitol; where during the public ceremonies I
was assigned to a place at the head of the casket as it rested beneath
One of the most devoted of those who remained in the room with
the dying President was Senator Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts.
He visited me subsequently and said: "Dr. Leale, do you remember
that I remained all the time until President Lincoln died?" Senator
Sumner was profoundly affected by this great calamity to both North
On my visit to Secretary Seward some time after the President s
death, he was still suffering from his fracture and from the brutal
attacks of the assassin, who made such a desperate attempt to kill him
on that fatal night.
When I again met Secretary Stanton we sat alone in his private
office. He was doing his utmost to continue what he deemed best for
our country. The long continued strain and great burden had left their
deep impress upon him. At the close of my call we shook hands fra
After the war had closed Governor Fenton, of New York State,
one of the "War Governors," came to me and said: "Dr. Leale, I
will give you anything possible within my power." I responded : "I
sincerely thank you, Governor; but I desire nothing, as I wish to fol
low my mission in life."
The city of Washington was wrapped in a mantle of gloom. The
President had known his people and had a heart full of love for his
soldiers and sailors. With "malice toward none" he alone seemed to
have the power to restore fraternal love. He alone appeared able to
quickly heal his country s wound.
In May there occurred in Washington one of the most pathetic
and historic events, the return of the Northern Army for the final
review of more than 70,000 veterans. A grandstand had been erected
in front of the White House for the new President, his Cabinet, Offi
cers of State, Foreign Ministers and others. I had a seat on this grand
stand, from which on May 24th we watched one of the most imposing
parades recorded in history. Among the many heroes, I recall the
passing of stately General William Tecumseh Sherman on his majestic
horse, which had been garlanded with roses. After we had been sit-
ting there for several hours a foreign official tapped me on the shoulder
and said: "What will become of these thousands of soldiers after their
discharge?" I answered: "They will return to their homes all over
the country and soon be at work doing their utmost to pay off the
national debt." He replied : "Is it possible ! No other country could
expect such a result."
All had lost comrades, many were to return to desolate and broken
homes. Amidst all the grandeur of victory there was profound sorrow.
Among the thousands of passing veterans, there were many who looked
for their former Commander-in-Chief, but their "Father Abraham" had
answered to his last bugle call and with more than 300,000 comrades
had been mustered out.
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